Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Power of Fear

While today was a busy day, this post won’t be too long.

I want to start tonight by telling you about my discussion in January with the vice president for student affairs. He summoned me to his office over winter break, when the university was closed, and refused to tell me why we were meeting. I got there and requested that I be able to have representation since he had the dean of students by his side. I was told that that would not be allowed. I asked to leave. He asked me to stay. I should have left, but I didn’t. That was my first mistake. We spoke for a little while, and at one point he asked me about the December 25th Email. I should have refused to answer his question. That was my second mistake. Instead, I was scared, and I lied. That was my third mistake. I apologize to all of you: It was a mistake that should not have been made. Like I said yesterday, I hope you’re still with me.

There are two more things I want to talk briefly about tonight:

The president, in his memo yesterday (linked on the right), made the claim that “the University did not, has not, and will not sue Jess Zimmerman.” The lawsuit that the university filed against “John Doe” (me) remains open in the court system and remains a very big threat both to me and to all of those who feel they can’t speak out about what is happening on campus. I’ve started a counter, also on the right, that will tell you how long the lawsuit has remained active since the president promised the University community the school would not be pursuing it.

Tonight there was a public forum organized by a small group of faculty to discuss this topic, and discourse in general, and I want to thank everyone who came. It was a very, very emotional evening for me and, to be honest, I’m a little drained right now. Surrounded by interested and passionate students and faculty, I felt I was in extremely good company. I felt supported, and I wasn’t the only one. One of the students who spoke said that she had been afraid to send an Email that expressed her concerns about the actions of the administration. With such support around her, she stood up and said she was no longer afraid. It was the support in that room that helped eradicate her fear, and I hope that that support continues to spread throughout campus. While much of what was discussed tonight revolved around me and this situation specifically, I think we are beginning to see this issue as a much bigger one. What the administration is doing to me, they can do to anyone on campus who feels the need to speak out. It sets a dangerous precedent for the academic community at Butler and on other campuses. When so many of us band together to protect the rights of any one of us, the rights of all of us are protected. For now, I want to know what you thought. If you went, what did you take away from tonight’s discussion? What are your thoughts about what was said?

One last thing before closing: I’ve linked to a copy of Butler University English Professor Bill Watts’s reaction to the president’s October 19th memo to faculty.


  1. Jess, how much has the faculty at BU supported you??? I find it very unsettling that every teacher of law and ethics at the university hasn't stood up and said something in your favor.

  2. Many faculty have made it clear that they are afraid to step forward for fear of retaliation. Some were even afraid to come to today's meeting! Jess's title says it all.

  3. At the teach in Provost Comstock stated that the University couldn't file a police report to address the fears for her personal safety because they didn't have the name of a person to report.
    So, at the teach in, I learned that if my car gets hit when it is parked on the street and there are no witnesses, I am unable to file a police report or if my parent's home is vandalized they shouldn't file a police report unless they know the name of the person who has vandalized it.

  4. im really thinking about doing a peaceful protest, dont think it sounds extreme people. what is extreme is filing a law suit against a student without a substantial case for the use of fear! would anyone join in the protest??

  5. Jess:
    When I was an undergraduate at DePauw, I was the "editor" of our underground newspaper. Your blog is more well-written and well argued than mine ever was. It is even more civil. But I learned a lot from writing it.

    I never once was afraid that I would be censored by the university, let alone sued. Free speech was considered sacred and writing takes courage, and I never questioned either assumption. I commend you for having the courage to say what many of us were and are thinking but were afraid or just too tired or caught up in other things to say. That's why pamphlets and alternative newspapers and blogs exist, to say those things for us. I want to say that I'm deeply moved, as well, by the depth of love you've shown for your family.

    As a long-time faculty member at Butler, I apologize for the actions of the administration. The whole thing makes me angry. I hope you receive the formal apology that you deserve. I want to say, too, that there have been some incredible faculty and students at this university over the years, and the students, faculty and alumni who spoke last night on your behalf, and who struggled with this issue, are among them.

    Susan Neville
    Professor of English

  6. RE:Faculty Support from BU-and what appears to be the lack of it: I am frightened for the future of students and America! As educators at Butler, if you don't believe that you are the most qualified to speak out on this issue and if you don't feel that you are safe and/or comfortable in the environment in which you work and are supposedely teaching others how to live, think, work and reason in the real world within that environment, then what on earth are you doing calling yourselves educators? You ought to all be ashamed!What happened to "Dare to Make a Difference!"?

  7. Today was an important and emotional day for all. I think every one there knew exactly why they were there, which, at the very core, is to attempt to save an institution we all care about, as well as protect a friend.
    It was very important to see faces and hear voices that are concerned about the fate of freedom at Butler University. As Jess stated, we will not forget about the wrongs that have been done and the fear that students continue to feel.

  8. The faculty have been afraid of the administraton for a long time. I am very concerned that the Board of Trustees is turning a blind eye.

  9. Prof. Neville--

    I'm a DePauw grad myself, and I could never imagine Old Gold taking a swipe at this sort of thing.

    When were you there, and what was the name of the underground paper you wrote for?